Walker, or What Happened to the Tail of an American Indian in Tucson

By Lourdes Curaçao

Comedy & satire, Literary fiction

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6 mins


peyak (the first one)

…it’s been a while, since the impetus for spoken words arose from its dormancy, a long dark tea-time dormancy…words go to sleep, and waking up, they become actions…they make you move, they move others, they make you want to make others move…it’s that old itch, to be in front of an audience, see how they get snared in your word-net, or don’t…strolling to the venue, thoughts on nothing but your piece, the world wavering around in your peripheral vision, unintelligible…see people…”hey, how ya doin’?”…”yeah, yeah, should be a good show”…meaningless words that have no footing when your mind is full of discourse, waiting to be born…you’re thick, fat, stuffed with words, consuming and consumed with them…everything else shuts off, all your vision, your hearing, your sensation…nah, there’s just those words…come into the lobby, nod at the producer, your host, whoever gave you the slot, tell them you’re ready…smile, always…wander off to the backstage area, the narrow slot where the boilers are, where other performers are…you sit there, listening, not listening, waiting for them to finish…you can’t get too strung up in their set…there’s no room in your mind for more words…you hear them, but you don’t listen…you delete their rhythms, intonations, energy…and there it comes, the MC’s silent beckoning…and there comes that cue that you’re ready…see, all the words go invisible, they go underground, imprinting in your memory so you don’t have to think about them any more…yeah, there’s a tingle, a knot, a nauseating swirl of “what am I doing here?”…same thing, every time…and then…wait for it…pop!...there that goes, too, and the next thing you know, you’re up! a story-teller, telling story...clear your throat, glance at the footlights, the blank faces, the squirming...wonder how you want to hit them tonight, easy or hard, or maybe not at all, tired of hurting...wonder how many seconds that last thought had actually taken, from the audience's point of view...

“I’m not a poet, just want you to know that. I’m a story-teller.”  …”that’s alright. go ahead!” an old veteran says, encouraging…
“I’m gonna give you a little story, a story about questions and answers, called ‘Questions and Answers’.”

…they laugh, in the mood for something light…perfect…don’t hit ‘em hard, then…here we go…

"I get told all the time, 'Oh, you're Indian? You don't look Indian!'..."

...check to see if they get it, and hope for laughter...see the nods, the smiles of acknowledgement because they thought she was White, too...they perk up, eyes bright, anticipating...

"I get looks all the time, especially when I say anything vaguely spiritual - or even just vague.”

...the Filipino producer in the wings gives a thumbs-up because he identifies with that line...

"Some people just seem to hang on my every sacred word. Others grow indifferent; only a few relate..."

...laughter...good sign...they're digging in...the producer is beaming, chewing on his cigar...

"I get told often, 'Just get over it, what happened to your people! Technology has so much more to offer! We're all the same after all, aren't we? You can't get back what's lost and besides - you look White!' And they can't wait to teach me the post-colonial slogan: 'Your culture's gone - just move on!'”

...a faint snicker and a few kudo-coos...

"What's it mean to be Indian? Aboriginal? Indigenous? Une autochthone? A dream-walker? A Free Person of Color? A throwback? A vestigial fourth world appendage of a vanishing race? A tired-ass-gene-pool-surviving-too broke-for-a-bus-pass-last-call-for-alcohol-evolutionary-dog-end?"

...they bob with the flow, the cadence all spoken word performers are required to speak to...they tap along, make approving sounds after certain word-pairs they like...

"I get asked that question and I get asked for that answer more than I get paid for playin’...”

...a wink to the other slammers...a guffaw of sympathy from the audience...look at their Whiter faces, grinning and nodding, willingly playing their part...smile in secret knowledge that you're feeding them their own bullshit in a Hershey's kiss foil and they're eating it up...they want you to remind them of their guilt but you won't comply...it's better to love than to hate...and no one's perfect...and there is no master race...

"I get tired of having to define what just is. I contemplate just like a Buddhist - but I look white. I don't ask these questions of myself. I've never asked myself who I am. What kind of two-headed fool would do that? As if anyone could not know who they are? Why in hell would I say to myself, ‘Excuse me, even though we've been conjoined from birth, I have a question: Who are you and why do we have the same social security number?’”

...barked laughter, a random clap...

"It's others who need the definition, the fine line, the boundary, the check box, the finite equation, the answers, the solution, the resolution..."

...nodding, cat-calls, a clap or two on the beat...they came expecting the rhythm of a slam more than the juice of the words...you can give the audience this, at least, but fuck all else...

"... the lie, the half-truth, the redemption, the salvation, the accusation, the judgment, and the whole world in their hands, walking a fine line all in one shade of rainbow, uniform, compliant, contentedly confused about who they are, who we are, who I am, what all of it means, anyway. What the hell does all of this mean, anyway?"

...cry it to the heavens and the auditorium rafters and the empty spaces above smug heads, privileged and safe and able to walk away entertained from someone else's miseries, feeling sophisticated and cultured and secure in not being Indian...

"What does all of this mean? It means I think I just might have a little coyote fun with all of this, maybe erase that fine line that split the sky and cut the earth five hundred Columbian years ago, just to cause a little commotion.”

...someone gets 'Columbian', a reminder of the rally that was coming up on campus a couple months away...put your thumb up to 'em...

"I tell y'all what. How'd about I just steal some fire, just for a laugh. That way, when people ask me who I am, I'll say, 'Watch out! I'm an infamous fine line-eater! I'll steal your fire and rob you of answers so you'll be forced to go out and find them all by yourself!' And then just watch their faces as they try to remain polite and open-minded and tolerant.”

...big laugh and a clap from the producer...pause to take that in...

"Maybe I'll do just that. It's better than asking myself what it's like to be Indian. As if I didn't know..."

...spread the arms in apology for any Puckish offense, take a bow, say 'Thank you and good night' because you like to say that...go back to the "dressing room", a bench in the green-tinted service hallway that opens onto the back alley, and sit next to Henry, the “Bound Soul” performance artist who is still trying to catch his breath...he nods...you're panting, too...you sit and suck in oxygen, calm down, let the red dwindle to rose then to gray...you have that nausea you always get when you perform in shows like this for White audiences anywhere...you always want to throw up because those people somehow suck the vigor from your spleen, hoarding it and never returning the volley...they don't know the tradition of orality is a two-way street...
...you joke, 'Got a bucket?'...Henry laughs because he feels that same drain, feels just as raw and inside-out...he tells you he likes you, likes your work, appreciates you because he's gay and you say, “That's almost like being one of us,” and his childhood wounds appear like stigmata but he is smiling because he found someone he can show the boo-boos to...his smile fades at the advent of an unbidden audience member, barefoot, anklet bells, draped in swirling hand-dyed skirts, patchouli-soaked blondish dreadlocks choking the air in a futile effort to disguise the cow-shit stank of weed and an aversion to soap and shampoo, wistful, looking like a vaguely Middle Eastern fairy...she kneels supplicant, like a misplaced harem princess, at your knee...you steel up and scowl at the offense of touch when you’re in the raw zone...Henry looks away, shuts down and robs you of his tender, child-like energy, so needed at that moment...she wants to thank you for sharing...she'd be a real prize in someone's harem if she didn't prefer to stink and be odd and beautiful at the same time...the beautiful freak has touched your knee...
...so you tell her, "If you really appreciate the performers, the best thing you can do is give us our space. I accord you the freedom to return to your home..." and she accepts this with a predictable unconditional ‘understanding’ and wafts away, lingering at the ragged curtain just a moment to cast a forlorn old-young wisdom-eye at you...but she’s still, nonetheless, in your space and you’re still raw...Henry shakes your hand after she complies..."I've always wanted to tell them that!" he confesses in a whisper, still censoring himself, Catholic-raised...you like Henry...the two of you talk about talking later but not now, and eventually you make your respective ways out of the building, into the night air and the warning mist of a soft dewy pre-monsoon evening rain...you breathe and you smoke, because to smoke is to pray and to pray is to dance...you smoke as you make your way down to the gay dance club on 4th Avenue because it has the best dance music in town...Henry will be there later...maybe you can talk about combining talents since both of you dance, both of you are invisible, and both of you need a bucket...



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